Pastor Steve's Page

DNJ Column 7/5/20

It’s a challenge for all readers of the Bible to come to terms with the fact that the Bible is both the least political and most political book in history. For example, Psalm 97 kicks off the argument with such language as “The Lord is King! Let the earth rejoice.”

         

We normally like to let this kind of language, The Lord is King, roll off of our backs. It’s uncomfortable in our anti-monarchical democracy. We used to say we don’t kneel to anybody, we’re Americans, but that seems to have, at least temporarily for some, gone out the window. But king language is still a bit uncomfortable for American Christians in our religious non-establishment regime. Is it a bid for power, this assertion of the monarchy of God, some sort of theocratic establishment?

It’s uncomfortable partly because we’ve heard the phrase “separation of church and state” all our lives, even though that phrase is non-constitutional, originating from a letter from ex-President Thomas Jefferson, and, by the way, I hope the DC police have a guard around the Jefferson Memorial, the way things are going.

         

We’re also uncomfortable because too often the absolutist political claims of the Bible are turned into mousetrap cheese by Republicans and Democrats eager to score partisan points. From city councilmember race all the way up to a run for the presidency, many, often the most religious of candidates, cannot resist claiming the mantle of morality, the scriptures, the church. It’s understandable, a lot is at stake.

         

So, ironically, the political nature of the Bible overrules those who would make political hay of the scriptures. The Lord is King. The Word of God asserts total claim over the affairs of humanity. Whose picture is on this coin? Well give to Caesar what is Caesars. But give to God what is Gods.

 

Now this is deeply offensive to the Kings of this world, and I include all political office-holders in that phrase, for to say that the Lord is King is also to say that the King is NOT the Lord. That is to say, the king, with a small k, let’s call him, is not the source of all authority, the king, in a real sense is not the source, not the fount, not the origin of any authority, nor is the people, by the way, nor the constitution, the strongman, the priest, the bishop, or the congress.

         

In the confession of the synagogue and the church, the king, meaning any and all positions of earthly authority, must live with the idea and the reality that some at least of his earthly subjects have a higher allegiance, an other allegiance, than to the king, that they see and live by the truth of justice and righteousness as found in the nature and actions of the Lord.

         

This is why I have no problem pledging allegiance to the flag. The Pledge of Allegiance is limiting, and it’s limited. It’s limiting in a similar fashion to the oath that a member of the military takes. The primary part of the Oath of Enlistment states that “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic...” It’s not a personal oath to a particular president or General. It embodies the secondary sense of authority found in the Constitution of this country, which constitutes the nation.

         

The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag is to the flag of this country, which it represents, not a party, or a president, or an ideology. But the Pledge of Allegiance is limited as well as limiting. It is limited in that, as amended in 1954, it now states allegiance “to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

         

You see, “pledging allegiance” are strong words. And I would not pledge that kind of service unless I could understand it to be a subservient allegiance to my primary allegiance to the Lord, for the Lord is King.

Steve Odom, with his dual loyalties, is pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro.

July Newsletter Article

I have an old childhood friend whom I haven’t seen or spoken to since 1964. Back in those days your friends were the kids your age that lived nearby. We were up to no good much of the time. We set fields on fire, we terrorized the birds with our BB guns, we dug holes and set traps in the woods for neighboring kids who were not part of our tribe because they were a couple of blocks away. We also just had fun, riding bikes endlessly, picking blackberries, swinging from vines and pretending to be Tarzan, climbing pine trees, swimming in phosphate pits (strictly forbidden).

 

In sum, we were virtually unsupervised for hours at a time nearly every day of the year. Most, though not all, of the houses were cinder block duplexes, though not all. Mom and Dad were poor in those days, though my brother and I and our bike buddies were happy as kings.

 

I got to thinking about my old friend because I sometimes nowadays interact with him on Facebook. He’s a talented guy. He designed and built his own retirement home a couple of years ago, he created and ran more than one PR and Marketing firms over the years. If you were to poll the two of us, we’d probably have very similar opinions on all kinds of things. But one of the things I’ve learned from Social Media is how differently some people express themselves in what is already an expressly public forum. 

 

When it comes to politics, he is fiery, angry, always seemingly on the attack mode. I get angry as well, but I don’t like to display it. I like to read about politics, and the why of it, looking for answers about what’s properly pursued in a liberal democracy with religious foundations, and about the how of it; how can a community most effectively pursue its proper ends.

We don’t know each as well as we did over 50 years ago. A lot has changed, our experiences diverged, our learning went down separate paths. George Herbert, the English poet and priest of the 17th century, compiled a series of proverbs that he collected from his farming parishioners that he visited as their pastor. He called the booklet he published the Jaculum Prudentum, or Wise Sayings, and Bo put one on the church signboard for us last week; “The best mirror is an old friend.”

Meaning, I assume, that those around you a lot often know you as well or better than you know yourself. Me and my old childhood friend from 1964 have been apart for too long for that saying to apply, but lately he has led me to remember a few other proverbs. Think before you speak comes to mind. Also, a verse from the letter of James in 1:19-20 says, “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.”

 

Also pertinent in these days of political controvery is James 3:13, 17-18, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom….  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.  And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

 

I read the most amazing “language” on Twitter these days. I put language in quotes, because if my brother and I got too salty (“daggum it” “what the heck?”

were pushing the limits) around my grandmother all she had to say was “language.”

 

I think about saying that to Twitter users I follow that state in their profiles they are Christian but use four letter words that, had I used them around my parents, would have left me unable to sit down for a week.

 

Now when my brother and I were around 10 or 11, we practiced that kind of language around each other and our buddies in the neighborhood. We had cussing contests, sitting up in the Live Oak trees trying to smoke the unfiltered Pall Malls we had stolen from my father. If I were to go back in the kitchen of that house that we moved out of in 1970, I could still point out the exact cabinet where my father kept his cartons. Top shelf, second from the left. (We thought he wouldn’t notice).

 

Now I don’t think I’ve heard my brother cuss in 50 years. Probably has, just not around me. Boys grow up. At least we used to. But, as always, we tend to imitate what’s around us. If that kind of language is used on TV, at the theatre, the movies, it will show up elsewhere. Think of the language you may have heard lately, what protesters are shouting in the faces of black and white, male and female, police officers. It causes damage, not only in our relations with friends and enemies, but in our souls.

 

My mother grew up on a farm, and I heard her say more than once, “Ooh, what you had in your mouth I wouldn’t want in my hand.” Farm wisdom. You can laugh at my prudery, but listen to your language, your speech, and ask yourself if you would speak to Jesus Christ that way, and then remember, you already are.

 

Let your speech be what is good and edifying that it may impart grace to all who hear.

DNJ Column 6/21/20

When the shutdown started, a church member suggested I email out a daily devotion.  I get them from all over the place, some on the internet, googling around, some from books I’ve owned for years. The need for more than sixty daily devotions (so far) to send out has driven me to find more and more sources.

          

Some of these discoveries have been rewarding. When I graduated from FSU, we didn’t walk across a stage like in high school, but we all (in the College of Arts and Sciences, or Engineering, or Education, etc.) stood up en masse, had our degrees conferred upon us and sat down again. We later got our diplomas in the mail. Except me. I got a letter from the library, “Dear Mr. Odom, Steven M. You have a $20 replacement fine for a book you checked out that is hereby designated lost, and your diploma will be held until you pay for the lost book.”

          

I had no idea where the book was, but clearly the Robert Manning Strozier library held the stronger hand, so I anted up, with my $20. In due course I got my diploma in the mail.

          

I don’t know how many years later, I found the book that I had bought! I thought about taking it by and asking for a refund, but by that time I was old enough to know better. But now, I had a wonderful book, simply titled, “George Macdonald: An Anthology.” It was edited, with a very readable Preface, by C.S. Lewis. You can find almost all of Lewis and Macdonald’s work nowadays, but the Lewis publishing phenomenon hadn’t hit its peak back then.

          

So that has been a good source, for it has many snippets that caught Lewis’ attention back in the 1940s, and now, I can read one of the 365 quotes from this book, and then look up the larger passage at http://www.online-literature.com/george-macdonald/. Astoundingly, this website seems to have everything that Macdonald wrote, available for free. There are many other sites for different writers, some specific to one person, others with anthologized portions from many great writers. Gutenberg.org has just all kinds of things, some of the greatest books in history.

          

There’s one particular writer I want to call your attention to however, and though his books are widely available for purchase online, it’s not as easy to find a free version that way, perhaps partly because he’s still in copyright. John Baillie (1886-1960) was a minister in the Church of Scotland, and professor of theology at universities in the UK, US and Canada. He wrote more than nine books, but the one for which he’s remembered by most is a little pocket size book with 31 days of Morning and Evening prayers, each less than a full page long. It’s called “A Diary of Private Prayer.”

          

There are those who have prayed “with” Prof. Baillie every day and night for decades. For all the books that he wrote, I doubt if put together they changed as many lives for the better as his one little book of prayer. Published 1936 (and in print and available on Kindle), Baillie writes in the somewhat formal language for prayer that was second nature at the time. It’s good that people today can speak to God without artificiality, but I get the sense that there was nothing artificial whatsoever about John Baillie. I recommend him, and his companion volume, “A Diary of Readings” (365 readings from inspirational writers through the centuries) to you enthusiastically.

          

Let me end with an excerpt from the morning of the third day: “This day, O Lord—give me courtesy; give me meekness of bearing, with decision of character; give me longsuffering; give me charity; give me chastity: give me sincerity of speech; give me diligence in my allotted task….Amen.”

 

Send an email to steven.odom@gmail.com, pastor of Central Christian Church, if you’d like to receive the Daily Devotion.

Daily News Journal Column 6/14/20

Some churches around Tennessee are gradually re-opening. It’s unfortunate that this has become a political or partisan issue, because once that happens, people in general no longer listen.

The issue of church and state was foremost in the minds of our country’s founders and the First Amendment to the constitution stated in part: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….

It's pertinent that the very first clause of the very first amendment addresses freedom of religion. Congress is restricted in this clause from doing certain things, first and foremost from establishing religion. In context, the aim was to prevent Congress from establishing a state church, and preventing them from restricting religious practice (prohibiting the free exercise).

Seems obvious to us today, but it wasn’t at the time. Baptists struggled in the 1700s against Congregationalist favoritism in New England, and with Anglican favoritism in Virginia. Quakers struggled to not be entirely prohibited in several states, and Catholics, mainly in Maryland, struggled with Protestants to be considered licit at all.

It took years for this federal restriction to become effective in several of the original states of the Union. But today, the state of religious freedom is not as parlous as many have lately argued. There are some state governments that don’t seem to understand this, however.

Many states did overreach, and overstep their bounds in the shutdown/lockdown. In general, governments must take great care to ensure that emergency declarations do not impose undue burdens that are substantially greater than those imposed on non-religious organizations, such as businesses.

For example, if a governor says a church may not hold any indoor worship, and then arrests people for gathering in a church parking lot in their cars to listen to worship on their radios, this is an undue burden. Are there no cars in the grocery parking lot? All during the shutdown/lockdown/ regime, you and I went to Kroger and Walmart (or others went for us) or Home Depot and Lowes, and employees continued to work at all kinds of warehouses like Amazon, etc.

It was stated that these were essential services, whereas nail salons, restaurants, et al, were not, and churches were included in some lists of non-essential services. There’s your problem. Nail salons are not in the first amendment; religious establishments are.

If a governor said only ten people can be in a church at a time, or none at all, as in some states, but hundreds of people wandered through Walmart because they were essential (and I’m not arguing with that), you have a restriction of religion in a discriminatory manner.

And then there were those who said that the government cannot restrict churches from worshiping under any circumstances. First Amendment! However, all constitutional provisions are subject to interpretation, and Amendments are not Commandments and do not establish absolutes. It is good to have pushback from churches when government treads too close to the line. But as long as churches, etc., are not discriminated against relative to other institutions, freedom of religion is not at issue.

For to say, churches need not follow any laws or emergency regulations is to come perilously close to violating the first half of that first clause, respecting establishment of religion.

In Tennessee and elsewhere, it seems that governors bent over backward to not interfere with religion. Others, like Mississippi, Illinois, California, and others have not been as successful at treading this narrow path.

There were those who scorned churches for any pushback. “You’re killing people!” But to them I would say that the freedom of religion is the first bulwark against an even more intrusive governmental regime that, whether they know it or not, would not be welcomed for long even by those who might wish for it.

There is a real wisdom in treating certain things as sacrosanct, for the world changes faster than we can understand it. The First Amendment is certainly first and foremost on that list.

 

Steve Odom is pastor Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro, which was closed for ten Sundays.

 

DNJ Column 6/7/20

When you “posit” something, you stake out a position. It’s related to the use of “position” in terms of where you’re located, you can see that. So, let’s posit a few things. A policeman using excessive force when subduing a suspect is wrong. That’s why they call it “excessive.” Was it excessive? The fact that Mr. Floyd died would seem to indicate that. We all saw at least part of the filmed encounter on social media. But was the officer’s use of that technique unusual? Was it standard procedure when dealing with a strong, though unarmed, and handcuffed subject? The store owners who called the police indicated they thought he was intoxicated in some way. Both subsequent autopsies indicate recent methamphetamine use and present fentanyl intoxication. Is that relevant? You can bet it will come up in Chauvin’s trial, and if there’s a hung jury, or worse, he’s acquitted, it’s gonna be this week all over again.

         

 The fentanyl may have contributed to his death, but bad judgment in abusing drugs is no reason to be killed by another, police or otherwise. There are so many ways this could have been avoided. Don’t use drugs, don’t pass counterfeit bills, don’t allow police with 18 complaints in their file anywhere near the public, don’t underfund police departments to the degree they have to hire less than professional officers.

          

So here’s another position: Police departments not removing dangerous officers for violations is wrong. These are good positions. Who could disagree?  And, during the week since Mr. Floyd died, many black and white Americans have united over some more positions (though strangely, the major media outlets seem not to have).

          

Looting is wrong. That’s not complicated, and there are no good excuses for it. Looting is simply theft that you think you can get away with in a time of crisis. Natural disasters attract looters, large urban fires, and, as we know, civil unrest.

         

Deliberately beating and kicking people is wrong. Going after shopkeepers, innocent bystanders, truck drivers (heroes only two weeks ago!), media personnel, law enforcement officers. Wrong. Arson. Wrong. Treating people differently solely on account of the color of their skin. Wrong.

          

All of this should be obvious. But then why is it all happening, seemingly with impunity? Gosh, 650 words are not enough space to answer that question. But let’s not forget the book of Judges 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Clearly, plenty of folk are doing what is right in their own eyes. The other Bible passage that comes to mind is often misunderstood. In Exodus 21 we read that “When men strive together… if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

This verse has been criticized by many for being excessively legalistic and unforgiving, but in that world 3,500 years ago, the real problem was the escalation of retaliation, thus the lex talionis (law of retaliation) was intended to regulate revenge and de-escalate these kinds of ongoing retributive feuds. ONLY an eye for an eye. Not more.

The lawyer for Mr. Floyd’s family gave remarkably good counsel to those angry at the callous disregard for life shown by the Minneapolis police involved, when he said, “the family understands the "righteous anger" of protesters and (Crump) said they support the people who want to work towards change, but he called the violence "unacceptable." He encouraged the community to "take a breath for justice, take a breath for peace, take a breath for our country, but more importantly, take a breath for George, since he didn't get the opportunity to take a breath."  

         

 Clearly, for many perpetrating the violence seen on the news, it’s no longer about George Floyd. Pray for your country.

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro, TN. Explain to him how he’s wrong at steven.odom@gmail.com

June Caller Article

It was indeed wonderful to see many of you in worship again this past Sunday, May 31. Ten weeks of churches around the country only worshiping via TV, laptop, and cell phones, and the verdict is in: it is definitely not the same. It’s unfortunate that this has become a political or partisan issue, because once that happens, people in general no longer listen.

But because the issue of church and state was foremost in the minds of our country’s founders when the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the constitution) were ratified in 1791, the first amendment (though third in Madison’s list of twelve, the first two were not ratified then) stated this: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It's germane and pertinent that the very first clause of the very first amendment, addresses the freedom of religion. Congress (later adjudicated to include state legislators) is restricted in this clause from doing certain things, first and foremost from establishing religion. In the context of the day, they were aiming to prevent the Congress from establishing a state church, a particular denomination, and, as the second clause implies, preventing Congress from restricting religious practice unnecessarily (prohibiting the free exercise).

All this today seems obvious wisdom to American Christians, but it was not at the time. Baptists struggled in the 1700s against Congregationalist favoritism in New England, and with Anglican favoritism in Virginia. Quakers struggled to not be entirely prohibited in several states, and Catholics, mainly in Maryland, struggled with Protestants of every stripe to be considered licit at all.

It took upwards of thirty and forty years in some states for this federal restriction to become effective in several of the original states of the Union. There have since then been a variety of Church/State issues that have risen all the way to the Supreme Court, and while they have been fractiously argued and received, the state of religious freedom is not as parlous as many religious people have lately argued. There are some states where the state government does not seem to understand this, however.

This First Amendment church/state clause has come to the fore recently because some have charged that it is unconstitutional for the government (“Congress” in the amendment) to, in the Emergency Declarations of the coronavirus pandemic, require churches to close. As with so many things, it’s complicated.

Many states did overreach, and overstep their bounds. In general, governments, federal, state and local, must take great care to ensure that emergency declarations as well as standard legislation, do not impose undue burdens that are substantially greater than those imposed on non-religious organizations, such as businesses.

So that, e.g., if a governor or mayor says a church may not hold any indoor worship, to then arrest people for gathering in a church parking lot while staying inside their cars to listen to a service over their car radios is an undue burden. Are there no cars in the grocery parking lot? It is violating the second part of the clause (prohibiting the free exercise thereof) because all during the shutdown/lockdown/shelterinplace regime, you and I went to Kroger and Walmart (or others went for us) or Home Depot and Lowes, and employees continued to work at all kinds of warehouses like Amazon, etc.

It was stated that these were essential services, whereas nail salons, barbershops, restaurants, et al, were not, and churches were included in some lists of non-essential services. There is the sticking point. Nail salons are not in the first clause of the first amendment, religious establishments are.

If a governor said only ten people can be in a church (synagogue, mosque) at a time, or none at all, as in some states, but hundreds of people wandered through Walmart because they were essential (and I’m not arguing with that), you have a government restricting a religious establishment in a way that effects an “undue burden” in a discriminatory manner.

On the other hand, there were those who said that the government can not restrict churches from worshiping under any circumstances. First Amendment! First Amendment! However, all constitutional provisions are subject to interpretation, and Amendments are not Commandments and do not establish absolutes. It is good to have pushback from churches when government treads too close to the line. But as long as churches, etc., are not discriminated against relative to other institutions, then governments can on the face of it, be considered to be pursuing the best interest of the people as a whole.

For to say, churches need not follow any laws or emergency regulations that are intended to be temporary, is to fall out of bed on the other side, and come perilously close to violating the first half of that first clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

In Tennessee and many other states, it seems that governors, who have state authority to make emergency decrees on a temporary basis, bent over backward to not interfere with religion. Other states, like Mississippi, Illinois, California, and perhaps others have not been as successful at treading this narrow path.

There were those who were scornful of churches for any pushback at all. “It’s an emergency! You’re killing people!” But to them I would say that the freedom of religion is the first bulwark against an even more intrusive governmental regime that whether they know it or not, would not be welcomed for long even by those who might wish for it.

There is a real wisdom in treating certain things as sacrosanct, for the world changes faster than we can understand it. The old-fashioned, clunky, slow moving Constitution has a lot of human wisdom that has served well for a long time. The very first clause of the very first Amendment, which made the whole constitution more palatable to those who were already resisting what seemed like too much power for the state, is certainly first and foremost on that list. 

DNJ Column 5/31/2020

How adept are you at keeping the Bible at a distance? No, I don’t mean keeping it out of your house and heart entirely. I’m thinking of believers who value, treasure and prize the scriptures, and identify with them to such a degree that the alien nature of the Bible is not on your horizon.

         

 In the psychological understanding of relationships, to be overly “enmeshed” is a problem for a number of reasons. If you’re overly enmeshed, you can’t really “hear” what the other person is saying, in conflicted conversations. In an enmeshed relationship, criticism comes across only as attack; unreasonable, unloving, catastrophic attack. Differentiation is a precondition for a healthy relationship.

          

So, the “distance” of the Bible should be welcomed and expected. But for some of us, our defense of the Bible against the assaults of an unbelieving world blurs our vision and understanding of God’s word. My mother defended me like a grizzly bear when my 3rd grad teacher criticized my (cursive) handwriting. My mother’s children had (have?) no faults, at least none that anyone else would be allowed to point out.

          

And, you know, if anyone in this old world should love you unreasonably, I guess it should be your mama. But love is not cancelled or even necessarily harmed by criticism. My teacher was right, after all. My handwriting was bad in 1962, and it’s worse now. I can hardly read it myself, especially if I come back to something more than a day or so after I’ve written it.

          

To keep the Bible at a distance is not to attack it, but to see it for what it is. To recognize it. To see, first of all, that it is not me. It is other. If you “like” the Bible, that could mean anything. You like the Bible, and ice cream, and JK Rowling, and puppies and Stephen King. What have we established? Not much.

          

To see the “distance” of the Bible is to be well reminded that I should take care how I understand and interpret it. It means I not only must think twice before I tell someone else what it “means,” I must give my self that same care of thought when I read the scriptures. The Bible was written by men who did not know me. I know of them only what I read in this text (and elsewhere, perhaps).

          

But even beyond that, the Bible as Word of God is foreign to most of what I know and believe as a modern person. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Who says anything like that in this age? The Bible has an unusual mien, manner and style. This is part of the blessing it conveys, for this reminds me of just how big the ocean is and how small my boat.

          

Sometimes, the Bible speaks with the softness of a mother’s lullaby, and sometimes it comes to us like a bolt of lightning. It burns, it illuminates, it shocks us, for in our God-less, comfortable lives, we’ve grown accustomed to a “use” of our life and all the world provides, instead of a love of love his handiwork.

          

Thou fool, it says in the parable, this night thy soul is required of thee. There’s a lightning bolt. And to the man or woman intensely aware of their own blameworthiness, disgusted with their inner and outer life, disgusted with how they’ve wasted everything given to them, there’s a word that says, Does no one condemn you? Neither do I. Go and sin no more. Softer, more comforting even than a lullaby.

          

Scot-free? No. Mercy is always severe, for now we know. Knowledge, especially of oneself, comes with a cost. No more excuses. I didn’t know! That won’t work anymore. When we see that flash of light, or hear that gentle voice softly singing, then, finally, we begin to learn who we are. Who God is. He is that for which we’ve longed, even as we’ve feared to approach.

 

Steve Odom practices his handwriting and reads the Bible at Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro, TN

DNJ Column 5/17/20      

 During college I lived at home. Better food than the cafeterias offered. That’s when I learned to “cook.” And by “cook,” I mean making toast, scrambling eggs, making grits, and “cooking” frozen chopped beef patties. They came in plastic bags, five to a bag. Little twist-tie. Not the best example of haut cuisine, I know, but I liked them. Especially with a pat of butter on top!  One of the early options for chopped beef patties was a company called Clark’s. I’m hoping they weren’t a subsidiary of Clark’s Shoes, so let’s not even look that up.

          

Clark’s sticks in my head for two reasons. They were simple and easy. Pop in the frying pan, little butter, and bon appetit!  The second reason was the commercials. They were on TV all the time. Perhaps that’s why mom started buying them. They had a memorable jingle, and the normal scenario was the harried housewife when her husband calls at 5:00 PM. “Honey, I’m bringing the boss home for dinner!” Big crazy letters on the screen with that boing sound, “The Unexpected!”

          

The unexpected is a core biblical component. There are themes and motifs that stretch through the Old and New Testaments alike. Similar to a current, deep beneath the surface of the ocean, or even like our own “Sinking Creek” here in Murfreesboro, that traverses the city from SE to NW, sinking and resurfacing several times.

          

The unexpected is a good way to describe God’s call of Abraham and Sarah to be parents of a great nation, for they were childless into their 80s. Jacob, the self-centered, scheming, grasping, mama’s boy, becomes the ultimate patriarch, the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Moses, the 80 year exiled “son” of Pharaoh, hiding out in Midian from murder charges, chosen to lead the Hebrew tribes out of Egypt. Jael, in the book of Judges, wife of a non-Israelite, Heber the Kenite, saves Israel by enticing Sisera (enemy general) into the tent to rest and while he’s napping puts a tent peg through his head. The Unexpected! David, “man after God’s own heart,” author of beloved Psalms, but also adulterer and murderer.

          

The unexpected is a motif that goes to the heart of the gospel story itself. For the essence of the gospel is the unexpected, the reversal of the normal. Heard so often in the gospels, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first…..he who loses his life shall keep it….blessed are you who mourn….love your enemies.” The enactment of this sort of reality is of course the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

          

How is it that the best of all men is hounded to his destruction in what was the most horribly painful way to die? And why is the day on which it happened described as “good” Friday? And why do Christians hold dear the symbol of this death and torture? Though to some it is the merest glimmer, the answer that shines out of the darkness is instanced for us in that same man being raised from the dead, never to die again. Having gone beyond death into a new kind of life.

          

Death’s power over the human is destroyed by a death. Death accepted and not resisted by this one perfect man somehow drains it of its power. Death, the ancient enemy, destroys itself by destroying the height of goodness, the perfection of beauty, the best example of truth to walk on the planet.

          

So many opposites, unexpecteds, reversals in this story. God creates by bringing something from nothing. Light speaking in darkness, “Let there be light! And there was light.” True life born from the death of truth. Infinite power born as a helpless infant. As that baby said, when grown to manhood, “when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church at 404 E. Main St. in Murfreesboro.

DNJ Column 5/10/20

I used to watch my grandfather make things. Before the Depression he was a metalworker and welder at the railyards in Jacksonville. I have a kitchen knife he made, the blade having a reverse curve from normal, though I don’t know why.

          

What can you make? I ask myself that question sometimes. I make sentences. Sermons. Columns. Class notes. I once made a set of bookcases. But could I fell a tree (the right tree) and cut and cure the necessary lumber? I’ve planted gardens, using seeds and plants I bought. Could I propagate plants without a nursery supplier?

         

No one of us could build an automobile alone. Assuming you had a horse, and a wagon, would you even know how to hitch them together? Could you shoe that horse? We are dependent on one another in so many ways. How long could you live if there was no electricity? If the grid went down and stayed down. Such is the stuff of dystopian sci/fi.

          

But it’s good to ponder such things. Our former president was roundly criticized once for emphasizing (overemphasizing?) the government and community role in business and factory development, when he said, perhaps unwisely, “You didn’t build that.” (which phrase astonishingly has its own Wikipedia entry). The president was echoing Elizabeth Warren’s defense of progressive taxation made in her Senatorial run at the time. Much of the pushback took his words out of context.

          

But in reality, the real problem was the straw man nature of the argument, for no one thought or pretended you could build or operate a factory, business, etc. without roads, rails, laws, police and fire services, etc. No one with the skill, wisdom, fortitude, and perseverance to build a company that actually makes things, looks back and says “I did it all by myself.” 

Though I disagree with the move toward what seems like an extreme taxation regime, I agree with the underlying sentiment or insight. Just as I might plant a garden “all by myself,” I couldn’t do it in isolation, without seed growers, and shippers, and truck drivers, and road builders, on and on the list goes.

We live on a planet that in many ways seems to want to kill us, and we have to rely on one another in our defense. Those of you who’ve faced a tornado or other weather “event” know that. Or if you survived a bout of the COVID-19, or cancer, or heart disease, or battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. The world’s a dangerous place.

The winds of Sunday night this week blew half a tree down from my yard into the street and my neighbor’s yard. Had I been standing in the wrong place, I would not be writing this today. Monday morning I was out with my limb loppers nipping away at the part in the street, not sure how long it would take me to clear it out.

A man walked by with his dog, said, “my church has a Disaster Team, you want me to call them?” “Well yeah! That would be great!” He whips out his cell phone, says, “Hey Josh,” describes the situation, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that within 10 minutes three guys in pickup trucks arrived from First United Methodist Church and chainsaws were buzzing!

In less than an hour it was all cut and stacked, and before noon the city had hauled it away! This is the kind of world we live in. It’s partly a function of societal wealth, but it’s also about virtues, expectations, freedoms (I signed no liability releases) and ingrained beliefs because of cultural habits and practices. For the same man who said, Love your neighbor as yourself, also said, In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Hats off to FUMC and the City of Murfreesboro!

Steve Odom, pastor of Central Christian Church and hopes all your trees are still standing. steven.odom@gmail.com

DNJ Column May 3, 2020

 

As a child, two things stood out for me about Jacksonville, Florida, where my grandparents lived. One was the smell. As we got closer to the city, we were always pleased to be enveloped in the aroma of coffee beans roasting at the Maxwell House plant there.

          

I’ve read that the olfactory nerve is strongly connected to the place of memory in the brain, and you’ve probably experienced, as I have, an aroma or fragrance from your past taking you back to once-forgotten memories. Cooking bacon reminds me of camping with my father, and chopping wood (pine) of watching my grandfather saw boards in his garage workshop.

          

The theologian Ephraim Radner tells us a lot about the function of memory and its role in Biblical interpretation in his celebrated book “Time and the Word: Figural Reading of the Christian Scriptures.” I commend it, though it’s not what we might call “beach reading.”

          

Of course, the sense of smell is not all that can trigger certain memories. There’s sight, as well. The Rock of Gibraltar logo of Prudential Insurance does it for me. At an early age, I associated my father with a big tall building in downtown Jacksonville, the Prudential building. Dad, who had majored in statistics, worked as an underwriter there in the late 1950s. Anytime we drove past it, we kids worked hard to be the first to spot it from a distance, “there’s where Daddy works!”

          

When I moved my family to Washington, DC, in 1987, our kids were 3 and 2 years old. Driving in from the north on I-270, we drove past a church steeple and my daughter, the older of the two, sang out, “There’s our new church!” It wasn’t of course, but we were all excited. It was cute. But even cuter, was my 2 year old son, being a fan of Mike Mulligan, and feeling left out of the spotting things competition, sang out as we drove past a large construction site, “There’s our new steam shovel!”

          

Do you sometimes feel drawn to the past? I know I do. I would pay good money to walk through my grandparents’ house in Jacksonville again. I’ve looked for it on Google street view, but everything’s changed so much, and all the houses and yards seem to have shrunk! But if I could get inside, I would know it’s the right house by looking at the back of the hall door (if it’s still there) where my father and my uncle used to practice throwing their pocketknives, where they thought their parents wouldn’t notice. Is the hand-cranked ice crusher still attached to the back porch lintel? Is the built-in wall niche for the telephone still there? Are there any snapdragons that my grandfather planted still flowering?

          

You can’t go home again, Thomas Wolfe asserted. But I prefer William Faulkner’s keener insight, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” What can that mean? This is difficult to conceptualize, partly because time is our ocean, but for God, time is a creature, almost simply an function of humanness. It’s hard to point to time, to touch it, even to think about it. Time is a negatively existent concept, in that it exists because other things won’t stand still. Change is the essence of time, time is merely a description, a measurement of change. Time is the moving image of eternity, Plato famously said.

          

There is a time for everything, Solomon said, but there’s also a time for endings. Jesus urges his hearers to work for the night is coming, when no one can work, and the true nature and purpose of time is seen in Paul’s reminder, “I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.” We are given “time” for a purpose. Use it wisely.

 

Steve Odom has seen 14 springs in Murfreesboro at pastor of Central Christian Church.

 

 

 

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May Newsletter Article

Dear Congregation,

We have all followed the sometimes bleak and sometimes encouraging news on the progress and retreat of the coronavirus and the destruction it has wrought on the lives of too many (in our country over 56,000). And of course there’s also the parallel damage wrought on the livelihoods of millions, potentially more dangerous to human life the longer the economic shutdown lasts.

Many have been encouraged by recent data demonstrating a slowing of death rates and hospitalization rates, even in the hardest hit areas. As a congregation, we have all missed worshipping and studying together since our last meeting on March 15. I have been monitoring other congregations around the country, and most have not yet re-opened for normal worship or class time, though many are in the planning stages, like us.

It’s a day by day judgment call on when should we meet, and it will not be this Sunday. But I hope it will be soon. I’m so grateful that no church members have been sickened by this disease (as far as we know), and grateful for the many who have continued to contribute their tithes and offerings.

Our Financial Secretary, Glenna Waldrep, has continued to make the deposits of gifts mailed in and dropped off. Without Sunday meetings, the giving is down from what it was at the middle of March. On March 15, the giving weekly average was $3,600, and now, as of April 26, it is $3,030 on a weekly average. The weekly needed amount to meet the Budgetary expenses is calculated as $3,622. That rainy day has arrived.

As far as HOW we re-open, we’ll have to do some things differently for a while, especially if it involves touching things.

With regard to taking up an offering: There are two ways to look at this. Most of the time, those in the pew need not touch the offering plate, as a Deacon simply extends it to the giver, and the Deacon can edge into the pew if needed. On the other hand, since we have plenty of plates, we could set up three stands with a plate on them. One in the back by the stairs, one halfway down the aisle on one side, and the same on the other aisle.

 

People can place offerings in a plate on arrival or get up during the Offertory. Then one Deacon could, at the doxology, pick up each plate and bring them forward and hand to me and return to seat (and not stand in front of me while I'm singing.)  I place them on the Lord's Table. This enables us to keep some of the visual/liturgical/action parts of the service operating, with regard to Offering/Communion.

 On Communion, we could still have the loaf and chalice that I use, once again, for the visual/liturgical aspect. I just won't put any of that bread on the trays. The Communion preparer can prepare the trays with gloves and mask and we can have two tables down front for the Elders to place the elements on. On each table would be one tray with juice and one (juice) tray with cups, but the cups can each have a little bread wafer, instead of all mixed on a bread tray that people reach into. May take a little longer that way. Instead of replacing the cup into the tray, we will have a trash can next to each table for the empty cups.

For those with mobility issues, the Elders will be watching, and can bring a tray with both to them, and the cups can be left in the pew cupholders. Perhaps when the last person is served, I partake of the cup with the normal words, and we move into the Closing litany. 

We’ll also have hand sanitizer bottles at each door, as well.

Each person will be encouraged to spread out within the sanctuary, “social distancing,” there will be no hugs or handshakes initially, and if you feel sick, stay home, but let someone know, especially if you live alone.

All your comments and suggestions are welcome, as this is a work in progress.

 

God Bless,

Steve O

DNJ Column 4/26/20

In one way this has nothing to do with the pandemic, and that’s a good thing, right? I’ve heard and read a lot of “fed-up-ness” with the shutdowns, stay-at-home orders and the constant TV news discussions, the little counters on the screen, how many have it, how many have died. But, I said this wasn’t about that. You see how magnetic it is, though, right?

            

Enough. I subscribe to a number of news and opinion aggregators by email, and a disturbing recent story was about a small church in the Midwest. The headline was “Church Growth by Kicking Out Old People.” Had to be The Onion, or the Babylon Bee, I figured. Nope.

            

The headline was entirely accurate. The church is a small congregation, worship is entirely lay-led, overseen by the pastor from another nearby congregation. The small church’s denomination had come up with a $250,000 grant to hire a minister for them and “re-start” the congregation with a physical facelift, PR campaign and new and innovative worship style.

            

The whole project landed with a thud when presented to the congregation, about 30 regulars, most of whom are eligible for Social Security. The congregation was told that older members were asked to “stay away” for 15-18 months during the re-launch, the timetable explained.

“15-18 months after weekly worship is launched at (name) campus — those members of the current campus who are interested in migrating back … can connect with Rev. (Name) about how to best make that transition.”

The current website goes on to say: “The main leadership needs to be connecting with new people, leaving little time to take care of the details—like mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, providing food for hospitality, and setting up and cleaning up.  Even if you might not be in the target demographic, we hope you will still consider being on the Support Squad.”

            

I must say I am a wee bit gobsmacked at the, what do you call this, effrontery, of the proposal. We want your church, we want you to mow the lawns, we want you to help with the garbage, and we want you to keep sending money. But you’re too old to show your face in worship cause you might spook the horses. Does no one see the irony here, of thirty-somethings in essence “taking” a church from their elders? I wonder if they’ve thought about who will take their church from them in 40 years? Perhaps we should re-familiarize ourselves with “The Old Man and His Grandson” from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

            

Trust me, as a graybeard myself (Leviticus 19:32), I know what it is to look around and wonder where all the young folk are. But you were young once. Or, if you’re still young, you’ll be old one day. Is this the way a church, holy cow, folks, a church, treats its own people? Please go away for now, until we can attract a younger crowd who wouldn’t join this church if they saw you and your wrinkles. But, then you can come back, once we’ve suckered in the young folk with hip, with-it music, and candles and play-doh and mazes.

            

Here’s what this has to do with the pandemic (for all this began at that church before the virus arrived). Perhaps the fear of death that has gripped our nation and government for two months is also seen in the attitude toward the elderly by those who don’t really believe (existentially) they’re going to die. The gospel is spoken, as Paul said, “to those who are perishing.” It seems to me that the gray head in church should be a good reminder for all of us that “the grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever.”

 

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro and was born the year the Immigration Center at Ellis Island was closed.

DNJ Column 4/19/20

Did you know you are somewhere on the Bell Curve?  It's a statistical curve shaped like a bell and refers to the normal distribution of "things" in this world. For example, if we measured the height of everybody in the world, there would be a few extremely short people, and a few extremely tall people. The largest number of people would wind up right in the middle, at the top of the curve, for they are the average, and the average, well, that's most of us in one way or another. There's a bell curve for physical attractiveness, a bell curve for longevity of life, a bell curve for strength, if it can be measured, it can be plotted. And normally, if your numbers are large enough, they'll plot as a bell curve.

There's a bell curve for natural ability and intelligence, as well. Some of an individual’s intelligence has to do with all the things we've always heard, your parents, your schooling, etc., but a lot of intelligence depends on how good of a diet you were provided in the first two years of your life. How nutritious and vitamin packed was what you ate in the those first two years? As I say, that's not all that affects intelligence, but it's big and it's measurable. And the worst thing is, you can do nothing about it; for yourself that is. What you eat those first two years depends on your parents' wealth and situation and their understanding about what you should be fed.

And, of course, wealth is on a bell curve. There are people whose wealth is such that they won't even notice the terrible recession we seem to be entering as a result of this coronavirus pandemic. Some people are thrilled when the stock market goes up, but others, if they know what a stock market exactly is, pay no attention at all because they own nothing but a car and some furniture, if that. And some have to rent their furniture. Some large percentage of Americans are said to not be able to deal with an emergency if it were to cost more than $500. Perhaps no credit card, no savings account, no "cushion," when the hard times hit.

 We tend to think: should have saved for a rainy day. And I won't argue with that. Everybody should save for a rainy day. But the simple fact that you READ a newspaper probably puts you on the more educated end of the bell curve. But some people, remember the bell curve, aren't as smart as you, or as wealthy, and they never will be. Their whole life is a rainy day. They will struggle more in this time of enforced joblessness, enforced inability to look for a job, enforced isolation. Their job can't be done from home, and they're prevented, by the government, from going out and looking for a job.

Nourish Food Bank is where we at Central Christian take our Food Bank donations, and maybe your church does as well. They are under a lot of pressure right now and it's going to get worse. What they're focusing on is weekend bags for kids, with things like pop-top cans of ravioli, spaghetti-o’s, Vienna sausages, etc., as well as Ramen noodle, and bags of dried beans for families. They're pretty well supplied with rice for now. If you find Toilet Paper or Hand Sanitizer, they do have clients that can't get to the stores and Nourish is making a lot of home deliveries, so those items would be helpful as well.

You can donate here at the church or take it to the Nourish Office next to the True-Value Hardware on Memorial, behind the old Reeves-Sain Drugs, MWF 10-12 noon.

 

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church on E. Main St. and can be reached at steven.odom@gmail.com

Sermon, April 5, 2020 Luke 19:29-48

The things we’ve learned in the past month are mostly things we never expected or wanted to know. By now we’ve also all become experts, virologists, public health specialists, just by watching the briefings and spending too much time on Facebook.

          The guy at the gas station says he heard that sunlight kills the virus and all this advice to stay indoors is wrong. The lady at the grocery store says everybody needs to drink hot vinegar and lemon juice which will kill the virus in your mouth and throat.

          It was either Mark Twain or Will Rogers who said, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so.” But our new creed is wash your hands, don’t touch your face, stay six feet or more apart.

          Emotions are heightened. We should expect that. We’re told it’s probably going to get worse before it get’s better. I’m reminded of the opening of Kipling’s poem, “If.”

“If you can keep your head when all about you  

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,  

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;  

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:..”

 

          If you’re young enough to wonder what it was like for an earlier generation to live and struggle and prevail through the Depression and the WWII, you may find out. You and I just don’t know what the future holds. This applies today, when we’re staring at what we’re afraid the future holds, and it applies 3 months ago, when nobody was worried about viruses and government-imposed shutdowns of the economy.

          The differences are stark. They were stark when Jesus looked out over Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday.  “And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it,  saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes.  For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side,  and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

          It seems clear he is speaking from divine foresight, looking to the time of the Roman War in 68-70 AD under Emperor Vespasian. Jesus sees a future that Jerusalem cannot see, and regrets they do not. It’s not that he has some secret international strategy for the nation. No, he means that they don’t know what it is that makes for peace; peace with God, peace with neighbors, peace within. And he ascribes the atrocities to come in 40 years to the cause that they “did not know the time of their visitation.”

          This is a puzzling verse for us 2,000 years later. For we understand the tragic nature of the necessity of the death of Christ for the whole world. We see it from the perspective of our own lives, our faith, the spread of the Good news ever since.

          If they HAD known the “time of their visitation” would that have changed things? And would that be good? I’m assuming that this would mean a recognition of who Jesus was, an acknowledgment of his divine calling, mission and identity. Can we think of this failure to recognize him as somehow a postponement of the Second Coming and the last judgment day? Are the Jews of that day somehow a collective savior of the world, in an odd, unintentional sense?

          Because Jesus was crucified by the cooperation of the Jews and the Romans, we see that the new world, the world promised by the OT prophets, began that morning of the Resurrection.

          Looking back is speculation. Which while it may not profit us to think about what might have been, can still strengthen, comfort, and reassure us about the future, about our future in God’s hands.

          Future is a little misleading as a word, though we don’t have a simple way to replace it. But future, in a secular sense, is just the next tick of the atomic clock that resides in the heart of the sun. The future. The present is always moving, it never stops so we can catch our breath. We’re swinging in a wide circle around the sun as the earth revolves on its axis and the cells of our bodies gradually disintegrate. The aging process is slow enough to allow us the time to love the world God has made, and praise him for it.

          But it also begins to gradually notify us, “this world is not my home.”  At the same time, the Bible teaches us that the Resurrection of Christ is the “first fruits.” In an agricultural setting, that’s the earliest part of the harvest. The metaphor is apt, for the promise is not a promise to turn us into some form of ghostly spirit living in an airy vapor of clouds. Our resurrection is a part of God’s plan for all creation, flawed, damaged by the revolt of humanity as told in Genesis and the rest of the Bible.

          Christians, in a time of existential crisis like the one we face now, sometimes privately, or not so privately, gloat, as it were, that we need not fear death like the rest of the world. We, accurately realize, inchoately perhaps, that an awareness that there is more to life than cellular activity, more to life than “three score and ten, or by reason of strength, four score,” provides a sense and a reality of strength in the face of uncertainty, calm in the face of peril, trust in the face of danger.

          But those unbelievers who strive to preserve life, who strive to hold on to the only goodness they have or perceive, are bearing witness to the goodness of God’s creation. They are saying, with all that they are and have, and all their strength, “this world is glorious, and beautiful, and life itself is the essence of that. Therefore, we should do all that we can to preserve it and make it better.”

          This is partly what Jesus means when he says in response to the Pharisees criticism: “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

          God will be praised no matter what, come rain come shine, come feast come famine, come life come death. The world “sings,” cries out, because it is made by God. We’ve heard a lot lately about listening to the science, following the science, obeying the scientists. A genuine “scientific” point of view, would simply assert that a virus is a part of nature, and it has rights on this planet similar to ours, to a chimpanzee, to a worm, to an amoeba. Science, a values-free medium, as has been asserted over and over in prior controversies about science and religion, can only say, the strong survive, the weak do not, everyone dies sooner or later, the sun goes down, the sun comes up again. Science observes and studies and codifies. But to the credit of scientists of a variety of kinds, and secular people in general, they seek for more than that.  

          It’s when we act for the good of others even when we can’t explain it scientifically, that we begin to see the power of God’s creative hand. For we are all made in God’s image. What more perfect picture of that image of God, than the lowest paid employee of Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York going to work every day to mop the floors? At the risk of his or her life. Warren Buffet says only when the tide goes out do you learn who’s been swimming naked. Only in a crisis that really squeezes do you learn what’s inside a person. In difficult times we begin to see the real fruit borne on the trees.

When we ask why? Why should we want to know what science tells us? Why should we care? Why does the knowledge of science matter? Why do we save the life of the disabled newborn, why struggle to save the 90 year old, why work so hard and risk our lives for others? Then, then, if you listen. Carefully. You can hear the stones singing. Do you know that song? Have you heard it before? I think you probably have.

 

 

Daily News Journal Column 4/5/20

Well, last week we all learned what we probably already knew: six more weeks of winter. No, wait! That was Groundhog Day! Which is what this social distancing is starting to feel like for many folks. So much stuff, so many events cancelled. But worst of all, too many deaths, often of those on the frontlines of this battle, doctors and nurses.

          

A crisis this large and sudden, and the response to it, has to have all kinds of political repercussions, and in many ways, though not all, it’s been “politics as usual.” But here’s two things to think about. For almost all of us, we can’t see what’s going on. We can’t see it. I don’t mean because shady deals are going down behind closed doors. I mean we can’t see because of the way we react to bad news, and this event certainly has been that.

          

In the last 20 years, psychologists have learned a lot about what could be called “The Power of Bad,” which is actually the title of John Tierney and Roy Baumeister’s new book, subtitled: “How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It.” We overreact to bad news, we overestimate its badness, we are more hurt by unkind words than helped by kind ones, we mourn losses in the stock market more intensely than we celebrate gains. On just about every subject, Bad seems to get more press, more attention, more reaction. 

          

But one of the key things to know is the first half of that word: overreaction. We over-do it. Things are not as bad as they seem or we think. Most of us overestimate crime statistics and virtually every indicator of social ill. We always think that things are worse than they are. Except.

          

When asked about ourselves, way more than 50% of us think we’re better than average drivers, better than average investors, better looking than average. Tierney and Baumeister talk about the evolutionary origin of these behaviors and the advantage they conferred. While I’m not arguing with any of that, I still hear a man say, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?”

          

Most of us feel like the end of April is an eternity away, but it will be here before you can even get ready for it. Remember how Christmas snuck up on you last year? This is nothing. Some of you enjoyed being in the Boy Scouts as kids, but I liked best about the hikes and camping trips was when they were over. I was so much more appreciative of hot showers, soft beds and my mother’s cooking after a Scout trip. No sand in my shoes, not roots poking me in the back, and no ashes in my food.

          

But really the way things have been going, because of the absence of vaccines and viable therapies and the seeming suddenness of its advent, this pandemic could have been worse than the Spanish Flu of a century ago.

          

So say it with me: This is the day that Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

 

Steve Odom is developing a backlog of undelivered sermons and looking forward to Easter Parade at Central Christian Church on East Main St.  

Notes from Pastor Steve 4/2/2020

I'm glad you're reading your Bible and praying more in this time of slowdown, drawdown, isolation, quarantine, whatever we call it. Some people get sad, some people get mad, others get antsy. Some are working more than ever, others feel like a racehorse locked in the barn. Today, two suggestions. If you can watch "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray. It's the kind of movie you can watch over and over and over and.....you get it.

 

The other suggestion has to do with our perceptions. I just started reading a book, The Power of Bad, on my kindle from the Linebaugh Library. I'll post the description and link to Amazon below. It will help when there's so much bad news around, like today. Not a religious book at all, it's a couple of Social Psychologist writing about they and many others have learned about negativity and why it bulks, unnecessarily, large in our lives and imaginations. 

 

Why are we devastated by a word of criticism even when it’s mixed with lavish praise? Because our brains are wired to focus on the bad. This negativity effect explains things great and small: why countries blunder into disastrous wars, why couples divorce, why people flub job interviews, how schools fail students, why football coaches stupidly punt on fourth down. All day long, the power of bad governs people’s moods, drives marketing campaigns, and dominates news and politics.
 
Eminent social scientist Roy F. Baumeister stumbled unexpectedly upon this fundamental aspect of human nature. To find out why financial losses mattered more to people than financial gains, Baumeister looked for situations in which good events made a bigger impact than bad ones. But his team couldn’t find any. Their research showed that bad is relentlessly stronger than good, and their paper has become one of the most-cited in the scientific literature.
 
Our brain’s negativity bias makes evolutionary sense because it kept our ancestors alert to fatal dangers, but it distorts our perspective in today’s media environment. The steady barrage of bad news and crisis-mongering makes us feel helpless and leaves us needlessly fearful and angry. We ignore our many blessings, preferring to heed—and vote for—the voices telling us the world is going to hell.
 
But once we recognize our negativity bias, the rational brain can overcome the power of bad when it’s harmful and employ that power when it’s beneficial. In fact, bad breaks and bad feelings create the most powerful incentives to become smarter and stronger. Properly understood, bad can be put to perfectly good use.

As noted science journalist John Tierney and Baumeister show in this wide-ranging book, we can adopt proven strategies to avoid the pitfalls that doom relationships, careers, businesses, and nations. Instead of despairing at what’s wrong in your life and in the world, you can see how much is going right—and how to make it still better.

 

https://smile.amazon.com/Power-Bad-Negativity-Effect-Rules-ebook/dp/B07Q3NHPGZ/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=the+power+of+bad&qid=1585680278&sr=8-2

Notes from Pastor Steve 4/1/2020

Never understood the whole "coloring books for grownups" trend of a couple of years ago, but in times like these, it's better than binge drinking or watching "Tiger King" or many other offerings available. So to help you find something to color, I include a link to a public domain coloring book. It's from a fun website called the Public Domain Review, referencing stuff that's so old it's gone out of copyright. Here's how they describe this offering.

 

We wanted to do something for the PDR community in these strange and (for most) mainly house-bound times, and so we made you a colouring book — free to download and print off at home. In addition to the colourable cover, we've chosen twenty images from a wide range of artists, including Hokusai, Albrecht Dürer, Harry Clarke, Virginia Frances Sterrett, Jessie M. King, and Aubrey Beardsley. Arranged in vague order of difficulty — from a simple 17th-century kimono pattern to an intricate thousand-flowered illustration — we hope there is something for all ages and colouring prowess!

 

Announcing the PDR Colouring Book! Free to Download and Print Off at Home

Notes from Pastor Steve 3/31/2020

I'm glad you're reading your Bible and praying more in this time of slowdown, drawdown, isolation, quarantine, whatever we call it. Some people get sad, some people get mad, others get antsy. Some are working more than ever, others feel like a racehorse locked in the barn. Today, two suggestions. If you can watch "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray. It's the kind of movie you can watch over and over and over and.....you get it.

 

The other suggestion has to do with our perceptions. I just started reading a book, The Power of Bad, on my kindle from the Linebaugh Library. I'll post the description and link to Amazon below. It will help when there's so much bad news around, like today. Not a religious book at all, it's a couple of Social Psychologist writing about they and many others have learned about negativity and why it bulks, unnecessarily, large in our lives and imaginations. 

 

Why are we devastated by a word of criticism even when it’s mixed with lavish praise? Because our brains are wired to focus on the bad. This negativity effect explains things great and small: why countries blunder into disastrous wars, why couples divorce, why people flub job interviews, how schools fail students, why football coaches stupidly punt on fourth down. All day long, the power of bad governs people’s moods, drives marketing campaigns, and dominates news and politics.
 
Eminent social scientist Roy F. Baumeister stumbled unexpectedly upon this fundamental aspect of human nature. To find out why financial losses mattered more to people than financial gains, Baumeister looked for situations in which good events made a bigger impact than bad ones. But his team couldn’t find any. Their research showed that bad is relentlessly stronger than good, and their paper has become one of the most-cited in the scientific literature.
 
Our brain’s negativity bias makes evolutionary sense because it kept our ancestors alert to fatal dangers, but it distorts our perspective in today’s media environment. The steady barrage of bad news and crisis-mongering makes us feel helpless and leaves us needlessly fearful and angry. We ignore our many blessings, preferring to heed—and vote for—the voices telling us the world is going to hell.
 
But once we recognize our negativity bias, the rational brain can overcome the power of bad when it’s harmful and employ that power when it’s beneficial. In fact, bad breaks and bad feelings create the most powerful incentives to become smarter and stronger. Properly understood, bad can be put to perfectly good use.

As noted science journalist John Tierney and Baumeister show in this wide-ranging book, we can adopt proven strategies to avoid the pitfalls that doom relationships, careers, businesses, and nations. Instead of despairing at what’s wrong in your life and in the world, you can see how much is going right—and how to make it still better.

 

https://smile.amazon.com/Power-Bad-Negativity-Effect-Rules-ebook/dp/B07Q3NHPGZ/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=the+power+of+bad&qid=1585680278&sr=8-2

April Caller Article 4/1/2020

Today, March 29, we all learned what we probably expected, that the “social distancing” will not end April 3, as some thought and hoped, but will extend several more weeks. The daily death rate did drop yesterday, but it’s too soon to know if that’s significant long term.

Many things in our community and country have come to a screeching halt, some from common sense, others by government mandate.  We have cancelled Sunday worship, the Sunday morning, evening and Monday evening classes, the Old Retired Guys breakfasts, the DWM/CWF meetings and the Square Dances.

Our daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the church basement, which lately has had less than 10 attending anyway, continues, at their request, 1.) because they’ve requested to continue, and 2.) because AA saves lives, especially in a time of heightened anxiety and increased alcohol consumption. Please pray for them. They meet very spread out in the basement, and wipe all surfaces each morning.

But coming up is our DIY Prayer Vigil, our Share the Peace project, the continuing weekly Walk Through Worship (let me know if you know someone in church who hasn’t been receiving these), and we have plans for an Easter Parade!

Well, not really a parade, but we are going to invite the whole neighborhood to come out Easter morning, park in our lot, and “parade” up and down Main St., wear your finest Easter Bonnet and FaceMask, (if you have one!) stay 10 feet away from everyone and bring your dog(s).  We won’t be taking up an offering, but if your dog makes a deposit you’re encouraged to take it with you! No buildings will be open, no hugs will be offered and no hands will be shook (shaken?). We will have a table near the parking lot for anyone to share cleaning supplies, TP, and staples for others. All items left behind will go to the Nourish Food Bank after being wiped down.

Hope to see you there. It’s been too long.

Notes from Pastor Steve 3/30/2020

It is told that in every generation there are times when hope threatens to leave this world. At such times, the Baal Shem Tov, the great Jewish mystic, would go into a secret place in the forest. There he would light a special fire and say a holy prayer speaking the long-forgotten most sacred name of God.The danger was averted and hope stayed alive.

In later times when disaster threatened, the Maggid of Mezrich, his disciple, would go to the same place in the forest and say, "Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, I do not know how to light the fire, but I can say the prayer." 

Still later, his disciple, Moshe Leib of Sasov, would go to the same place in the forest and say,, "Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, I do not know how to light the fire or say the prayer, but I found my way to this place, and that must be enough." And it was. Hope stayed alive.

And later when Israel of Rizhyn needed intervention from heaven, he sat in his chair with his head in his hands and say, "Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, I no longer know how to light the fire nor how to say the prayer, I can't even find our way to that place, but I can tell the story and that must be enough." And it was.

And it still is. As long as stories are told, hope stays in the world.

DNJ Column 3/29/20

I haven’t heard anyone on the news outlets referring to the corona-virus pandemic that is suddenly shutting down our economy, and others, as a “plague,” but I am starting to see writers and bloggers draw attention to previous pandemics and plagues.

          

Many have referenced the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009-10, and the SARS corona-virus outbreak in 2003, which killed, respectively, an estimated 284,000 worldwide and 774 worldwide. The SARS had a much higher case fatality rate, but it did not spread as quickly and easily.

          

Most of us learned in history class of the Bubonic Plague (widely known as the Black Death) from the Middle Ages (1348-1350). Spread mainly by fleas from infected rodents and other mammals, yersinia pestis, as the bacillus is known, killed an estimated 40% of Europe’s population, and Europe as a whole took more than two centuries to return to pre-plague levels; England over four centuries.

          

There was no one keeping many medical records back then, so no real clear case fatality rate emerges, but anecdotally, it seems that some, though relatively few, recovered from the infection while others seemed to have some sort of natural immunity. The Bubonic Plague, which seems to have entered the Mediterranean world through trade along the Silk Road, the ancient traders’ route to China, changed the European world permanently, and came hard on the heels of a decades long period of climate change (the “Little Ice Age”) beginning around 1300.

          

The world’s population had grown in the warming period from 950-1250, but after that there was widespread hunger throughout those first three decades of the 14th century. Most Europeans suffered greatly during this period, especially the “peasants,” who were 95% of the population, having no reserves of food, livestock or seed stock after the first year. 1316 was known as the Year of No Summer, and accordingly, no crops. Those who survived the famine were weakened by the widespread pneumonia, bronchitis, and tuberculosis that followed the time of famine, and thus were not immunologically ready for the Plague of 1348.

          

The Great Plague was not the first, just the best known in European history. There had been others, beginning in with the Antonine Plague in 165 AD under Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Plague of Cyprian (250-266 AD) and the Plague of Justinian (541-550 AD). Modern epidemiological historians consider that each of these had the same vector as that of the Bubonic Plague, arriving from the East along the Silk Road as a result of trade. What exactly these plagues were is not entirely clear, until Justinian, which is thought to be the first entry of the Bubonic Plague (yersinia pestis) into European history. Earlier outbreaks could have been cholera, typhus or smallpox. Historians differ.

          

Currently there has been back and forth from China and the US on who’s the source of the current pandemic, and even charges from one Chinese official that the US intentionally unleashed this virus.

          

In a crisis people act and speak under pressure and often without careful consideration. Historians will decide what this is called in the future, the Xi Virus, the Trump Virus, the 2020 Pandemic, COVID-19. Whatever we call it, I think there’s some wisdom, once we’re through the worst of this and the vulnerable are safe and healthy, in thinking harder about the porosity of borders and the fluidity of trade. Different populations seem to have different immunities, to wit, the native Americans of the 16th century, who died from a host of European infectious diseases after the time of Columbus.

          

At a national level, our government should act in the best interests of this country in being more careful about who enters the country and whether they have to have vaccinations and certifications about their current and prior health. We apparently didn’t learn enough from the Bird Flu, the SARS, the MERS, or the H1N1 Outbreaks. I’m thinking, hoping, we’ll remember this one.

Steve Odom is pastor Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro, which is not meeting for worship today.

Daily News Journal Column March 22, 2020

 

Dear Lord,

          

Today I pray for people I’ve never met and whose names I don’t know, but you do. I’m thinking about a little boy, old enough to watch the news, home now from school all day, and the news is all about the Coronavirus and people dying. What is he thinking is going to happen? What does he think about at night? I pray for this young boy, Lord.

          

I pray for a young mother of three who’s been managing a restaurant since her divorce, and just learned that it’s going to have to close down. She’s wondering where to go and what to do, and how long the money and the food will hold out. I pray for her, Lord.

          

There’s a 20-year old member of the National Guard in New Rochelle, NY right now, Lord, who’s serving his country and his community, but is near people diagnosed with the virus. He wonders what happens at night when he goes home, or visits his parents. I pray for him and for his safety and those he protects.

          

In Ohio there’s an 80 year old widower who lives with his disabled son, whom he has to take to the doctor regularly. He’s worried about dying before he can provide for his son. Who will care for, who will love his son when he’s gone?

          

There’s a Chinese Uighur detained in an internment camp in Western China for “re-education.” I don’t know anything about these people, Lord. I’m told China thinks they’re a threat to national security because they’re radical Muslims. This could be true, but they’ve broken no law, they’re in crowded unsanitary conditions in the camps, as are Syrian refugees, and refugees in Burundi, and the Congo, and in Central America. I pray for them and for the many aid workers of the United Nations Refugee Commission.

          

I pray for our mailman Lord. He’s being careful with gloves and other measures, but he handles packages and letters constantly from all over the country, and the world. He sorts it, and picks up outgoing mail, and his work is essential to the lives of so many people, delivering prescription drugs and other things essential to the health of many. I pray for his safety.  

          

I pray for politicians today. Federal and state and local. I pray for politicians who stand up at press conferences where reporters yell at them and snidely accuse them, and set verbal traps for them. I pray for these politicians, and for public health officials and public health workers, who are at risk every day. I pray for the scientists at work on a vaccine for the virus.

          

And I pray for the widow with no children who lives alone with her TV. I pray for her fear, her loneliness, her health, her ability to find food in a time of induced scarcity. I pray for myself, Lord, and others, that we will be patient when our routines are disrupted. That we will be understanding of those who will be blamed when outcomes go wrong. I pray for police officers and those on dispatch who are dealing with all kinds of craziness right now, for when people are scared, or confused, or angry, they call the police, not knowing what else to do. Give them patience as well, Lord, and protect them.

          

Protect the nurses, and doctors, and truck drivers, and grocery store employees, and the farmers. And fill us with your wisdom, Lord, that we may not miss this opportunity to learn how much we depend on each other, and on individuals we don’t know, and perhaps wouldn’t like if we did know them. And bless those who remember that rule to live by, that we might treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated. In Jesus’ name, who gave himself for others. Amen

Steve Odom feels fine right now, and is pastor of Central Christian Church on E. Main St.

 

DNJ Column March 15, 2020

 

Some of you remember the last big Oil Crisis of the 1970s. How enraged we were when gasoline prices crossed $0.50 a gallon! And then, five years later it got worse, approaching $1.00 per gallon! I had a good friend at the time, who said, perhaps a bit precipitately, “If it gets to a dollar a gallon, I just won’t buy any gas!”

          

We’re all kinda like that sometimes. We like big talk. We talk back to the TV news as if CNN or Fox, etc., are afraid of us. We boast, “He better not try that with me or he won’t know what hit him!” We hear national figures say things like that. I liked Schumer’s obviously off-the-cuff attempt to trash talk the Supreme Court. The funny part was the mash up of metaphors. You can, of course, “release the Kraken!” Though that might have limited applicability and recognition. You can sow the wind, and “reap” the whirlwind, which, maybe, was what he was getting at. But I never heard of “releasing the whirlwind.” Schumer’s rhetoric was of course directed at the two newest Justices, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, regarding their upcoming vote on an abortion case on the docket. Kavanaugh had used similar language when he described the frenzy of criticism at his confirmation hearings, though he at least got the phrasing right. He said at the time: “You sowed the wind for decades to come. I fear that the whole country will reap the whirlwind.”

          

I honestly think Schumer, in the heat of the moment, with an adoring crowd, didn’t really intend to physically threaten, or call for assassination of Federal officials. But this is why it’s always important to be careful with our language. My friend got a little heated, but the dollar price was crossed, and, well, he kept on driving to work.

          

It seems to bother some people that the Oil Industry is such a large part of the world economy, but really and truly there is a direct line between improving health and wealth (and the two always go together) in the last 150 years and the rise of the modern oil industry, which drives everything related to transportation, as well as chemistry, pharmaceuticals, etc.

         

It’s an easy bet that you and I are alive because of men like James Young, Edward Binney, Abraham Gesner and Ignaz Lukasiewicz. There are hundreds of people who contributed to our abilities to abstract, refine and develop the uses of petroleum in things like antihistamines, insecticides, soap, cortisone, fertilizer, antifreeze, detergent, ammonia, toothpaste, etc.

          

So it feels a little weird now that Saudi Arabia, who fifty years ago wouldn’t pump more oil, and drove the scarcity crisis of the ‘70s, now is part of the new oil crisis because they’re producing too much oil (along with Russia). Historically high stock market valuations, the COVID-19 epidemic, the aforementioned oil crisis have all contributed to the intensification of the recent stock market correction. Which may turn around, on a dime, by the time you read this. Or not.

          

It’s the upsidedown-ness of today compared to 1974-79 that caught my attention. We couldn’t get enough oil 50 years ago and so there was a crisis. We have too much oil now and so there’s a crisis. I suppose supply and demand drives a great deal of this. Along with our inability to predict the future, of course.

          

The French say, in their inimitable way, the more things change the more they stay the same. But it really seems more like to me, “the longer you live the more everything seems to be upside down and backward.” If I could put that in French, I’m sure it would be more convincing.

          

What I can’t get used to is Republicans spending money like there’s no tomorrow, and Democrats wringing their hands about Russians. See my invented phrase above. 

 

If you’re French, please send steven.odom@gmail.com a translation of his invented aphorism. Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church.

DNJ Column 3/1/20

Henry Wallace was an Iowa farmer who edited a journal, Wallace’s Farmer, still published today. An adept businessman, he founded the very successful “Hi-Bred Corn Co”. In 1932 he was a supporter of FDR, who appointed him Secretary of Agriculture (1933-40). In 1940, FDR made it clear he wanted Wallace as VP and he was nominated by the party and won election as the second VP under FDR. Famously, FDR had never announced his own intentions, but the party nominated him anyway. In the election of ’44, Wallace was pushed out by the party in favor of Harry Truman to serve as FDR’s VP for his last term.

 

In the parlance of the day, Wallace was too “red.” At one point he had said, “both the American and Russian revolutions were part of the march of freedom of the past 150 years.”  He had been a very active and effective VP, and his deep involvement in the war effort on many levels led to some referring to him as the “Assistant President.” His long tenure at Agriculture in the 30s, developing it into the largest of Federal departments at the time, prepared him for his role during the war.

 

But he was economically to the left of FDR, which took some doing, and his viewpoint re: the USSR and its policies was the main reason he was booted off the ticket in 1944. (Impressively, Wallace was nonetheless a vigorous and public supporter of FDR in the ’44 election. FDR rewarded him with the position of Secretary of Commerce.). All during the war, Wallace had enthusiastically boosted Stalin and his policies, lauding the successes of his notorious “five-year plans.”

 

In early 1944 Wallace toured the USSR and the Gulag (forced-labor camps) and sounded impressed with the sanitized version of the camps the Russians presented to him.  At the Kolyma gold mine labor camp, where over 16,000 laborers had died in 1942 alone, all the barbed wire was removed, the starving “zeks” shipped off to other camps, and healthy-looking NKVD officers brought in to take their place while Wallace was there. Wallace was impressed and said they were “big, husky men,” who he supposed had “come out to the Far East from European Russia.” He later said the camps, which to everyone else were obvious Potemkin Villages, were like a “combination Tennessee Valley Authority and Hudson’s Bay Company.” Except for the mass graves, of course.

 

Why he was so gullible, I don’t know. True, we were “allies” with the USSR against Germany and Japan. True, many others were fooled as well. But it seems to me, someone near the very top of government, like Wallace, might have been more alert, more perspicacious.

 

But give Henry Wallace credit. Unlike many fellow travelers of our era, who, when the USSR collapsed in 1991 never apologized, never admitted their mistakes, Wallace came out boldly in 1952, in an article in The Week entitled, “Where I Was Wrong.” In this article Wallace honorably stated: “More and more I am convinced that Russian Communism in its total disregard of truth, in its fanaticism, its intolerance and its resolute denial of God and religion is something utterly evil…What I wanted was peace, but not peace at the price of Communist domination. I thought the Soviets had more sense than to do what they have been doing during the past few years. There I was proved wrong by subsequent events.”

 

Had Wallace known more of the Soviets’ history, he might have been more wary. Instructively, it’s an old Russian proverb that say, “Dwell on the past and you'll lose an eye; forget the past and you'll lose both.”  Henry Wallace. An honorable man. As Isaiah Berlin said, “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”  Sometimes good people make bad decisions. And vice versa. That’s only one reason why politics is complicated, and reasonable people disagree.

 

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro and every day tries to balance first on his left leg and then on his right.

March Caller Article

Many lovers of the King James version of the Bible are little if at all aware of its origins and that it came from the work of six committees (!) of mostly college professors. The translators were organized into teams, the chair of that in charge of Genesis-2 Kings being one Lancelot Andrewes. I first came across Andrewes in T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Journey of the Magi.” Eliot uses lines from one of Andrewes’ sermons on Christmas Day, in 1622:

"A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey in. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off….the very dead of winter."

 

I can’t in good conscience recommend Dr. Andrewes’ sermons to you as something you’d enjoy reading. “And these difficulties they overcame, of a wearisome, irksome, troublesome, dangerous, unseasonable journey; and for all this they came. And came it cheerfully and quickly, as appeareth by the speed they made. It was but vidimus, venimus, with them; they saw, and they came; no sooner saw, but they set out presently. So as upon the first appearing of the star, as it might be last night, they knew it was Balaam's star; it called them away, they made ready straight to begin their journey this morning. A sign they were highly conceited of His birth, believed some great matter of it, that they took all these pains, made all this haste that they might be there to worship Him with all the possible speed they could. Sorry for nothing so much as that they could not be there soon enough, with the very first, to do it even this day, the day of His birth.

 

There is a great deal more in that vein. But for me, Andrewes redeems himself with a small devotional book he wrote, for his own use, called in English “The Private Prayers (or Preces Privatae) of Lancelot Andrewes.” A friend gave me his copy and it is a marvel.

It reminds me of the insight that as one approaches more closely to the overwhelming light of God, one learns more of one’s own sins and unworthiness. The most saintly, it seems, are the most acutely aware of their own failings. In our modern, Freudian, world, we’re accustomed to diagnosing people like Andrewes with one or another psychological disorder.

 

His “Confession” from his “Order of Prayers for the First Day of the Week” begins thus: Merciful and pitiful Lord, Long-suffering and full of pity, I have sinned, I have sinned against Thee; O me, wretched that I am, I have sinned, Lord, against Thee much and

grievously, in attending on vanities and lies. I conceal nothing; I make no excuses.”

         

He also has a Prayer for Grace, that’s built around the Ten Commandments. They’re numbered in his text: “Remove from me,

 

1.       All iniquity and profaneness, superstition, and hypocrisy.

2.       Worship of idols, of persons.

3.       Rash oath, and curse.

4.       Neglect or indecency of worship.

5.       Haughtiness and recklessness.

6.       Strife and wrath.

7.       Passion and corruption.

8.       Indolence and fraud.

9.       Lying and injuriousness.

10.     Every evil notion, every impure thought, every base desire, every unseemly thought.

 

And then he continues, “Grant to me,

1.       To be religious and pious.

2.       To worship and serve.

3.       To bless and swear truly.

4.       To confess meetly in the congregation.

5.       Affection and obedience.

6.       Patience and good temper.

7.       Purity and soberness.

8.       Contentedness and goodness.

9.       Truth and incorruptness.

10.     Good thoughts, perseverance to the end.

 

I don’t know if you feel as inadequate as I do on simply contemplating Andrewes’ accomplishments, but I find it encouraging to contemplate his work and service not only without our modern conveniences, but even before tea or coffee were available in England!

 

DNJ Column, 2/23/20

Many lovers of the King James version of the Bible are little if at all aware of its origins and that it came from the work of six committees (!) of mostly college professors. The translators were organized into teams, the chair of that in charge of Genesis-2 Kings being one Lancelot Andrewes. I first came across Andrewes in T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Journey of the Magi.” Eliot uses lines from one of Andrewes’ sermons on Christmas Day, in 1622:

"A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey in. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off….the very dead of winter."

 

I can’t in good conscience recommend Dr. Andrewes’ sermons to you as something you’d enjoy reading. “And these difficulties they overcame, of a wearisome, irksome, troublesome, dangerous, unseasonable journey; and for all this they came. And came it cheerfully and quickly, as appeareth by the speed they made. It was but vidimus, venimus, with them; they saw, and they came; no sooner saw, but they set out presently. So as upon the first appearing of the star, as it might be last night, they knew it was Balaam's star; it called them away, they made ready straight to begin their journey this morning. A sign they were highly conceited of His birth, believed some great matter of it, that they took all these pains, made all this haste that they might be there to worship Him with all the possible speed they could. Sorry for nothing so much as that they could not be there soon enough, with the very first, to do it even this day, the day of His birth.”

          

There is a great deal more in that vein. But for me, Andrewes redeems himself with a small devotional book he wrote, for his own use, called in English “The Private Prayers (or Preces Privatae) of Lancelot Andrewes.” A friend gave me his copy and it is a marvel.

         

 It reminds me of the insight that as one approaches more closely to the overwhelming light of God, one learns more of one’s own sins and unworthiness. The most saintly, it seems, are the most acutely aware of their own failings. In our modern, Freudian, world, we’re accustomed to diagnosing people like Andrewes with one or another psychological disorder.

          

His “Confession” from his “Order of Prayers for the First Day of the Week” begins thus: Merciful and pitiful Lord, Long-suffering and full of pity, I have sinned, I have sinned against Thee; O me, wretched that I am, I have sinned, Lord, against Thee much and grievously, in attending on vanities and lies. I conceal nothing; I make no excuses.”

          

He also has a Prayer for Grace, that’s built around the Ten Commandments. They’re numbered in his text: “Remove from me,

1.    All iniquity and profaneness, superstition, and hypocrisy.

2.    Worship of idols, of persons.

3.    Rash oath, and curse.

4.    Neglect or indecency of worship.

5.    Haughtiness and recklessness.

6.    Strife and wrath.

7.    Passion and corruption.

8.    Indolence and fraud.

9.    Lying and injuriousness.

10. Every evil notion, every impure thought, every base desire, every unseemly thought.

 

And then he continues, “Grant to me,

1.    To be religious and pious.

2.    To worship and serve.

3.    To bless and swear truly.

4.    To confess meetly in the congregation.

5.    Affection and obedience.

6.    Patience and good temper.

7.    Purity and soberness.

8.    Contentedness and goodness.

9.    Truth and incorruptness.

10. Good thoughts, perseverance to the end.

 

I don’t know if you feel as inadequate as I do on simply contemplating Andrewes’ accomplishments, but I find it encouraging to contemplate his work and service not only without our modern conveniences, but even before tea or coffee were available in England!

 

Steve Odom’s favorite is Café Verona, and he’s the pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro.

DNJ Column February 16, 2020

 

In the late eighties, I started a Shakespeare Reading Group at my neighborhood church in Washington, D.C. We met twice a month in the church basement around a few tables and read our assigned parts in whatever play was up that night. These are called “Readers’ Theatres.” I had sent out press releases to theatre groups in the area, looking for some really good readers to make it fun for the rest of us and a few showed up. It was still going when I left in ’93 and lasted for a good while.

 

While I was there a reporter from the DC “City Paper” came by to interview me, and it was a young woman named Jennifer Senior, who seemed only recently out of college. She wrote quite a snappy, clever, humorous article, using an ingenious series of Shakespeare quotes to head her paragraphs.

Years later I see there’s a Jennifer Senior writing for the NY Times and it looks like the same person, albeit three decades later. She seems, from her articles, to be a standard progressive/liberal politically and culturally, though she is taking some risks.

 

The risks are in the way she’s recently pushed back against the wokeness of “cancel culture.” This is perilous for folk in her position, for the Op/Ed page of the NYT is the pinnacle of catbird seats, and how art the mighty fallen is more than just a Bible quote. So kudos to Senior for speaking up.

Her speaking up was in in opinion column on Teen Fiction and Cancel Culture from last March, when she narrated the “smack down” of a YA Fiction author, Kosoko Jackson, who had written a novel on the Yugoslav implosions of the early ‘90s. The irony is that Jackson, who is black and gay, had, in Senior’s words, “worked as a ‘sensitivity reader’ for major publishing houses, which meant his job was to flag just the sort of problem content for which he was now being run out of town. He was Robespierre with his own neck in the cradle of the guillotine.”

 

She pushes her critique further by saying, “What happened to Jackson is frightening. Purity tests are the tools of fanatics, and the quest for purity ultimately becomes indistinguishable from the quest for power.” What I’m wondering is if there are younger staffers that are eyeing this aging Millennial while sharpening their knives. Watch your back, Jennifer.

 

It’s encouraging to see that there are liberals with enough self-awareness to know that “The Revolution ends by devouring its own children." And she’s not alone. George Packer is a writer for the Atlantic and penned a long piece on the contradictions, years ago, in trying to get his children into New York City private pre-schools that charge tuition of app. $50,000 and critique two-year-old applicants’ crayon scribbles as if they were essays written to get into college.

 

Lately, Packer’s kids have been obsessed with the Broadway show Hamilton, His daughter was shocked to learn that the Founding Fathers weren’t black. His son’s woke public school taught him all about China and the Mayans, and the genocide of Native Americans and slavery. But he wistfully notes that he wishes his son were taught more civics.  “He was never taught about the founding of the republic. He didn’t learn that conflicting values and practical compromises are the lifeblood of self-government…He got his civics from Hamilton.”

 

Only negatives seem to be acceptable when teaching history nowadays. Packard says that the students are not encouraged “to research their topics, make intellectual discoveries, answer potential counterarguments.” In essence it’s a training in political activism.

I remember cutting turkeys out of construction paper and drawing Pilgrims with funny hats. What do your kids bring home from school?

 

Steve Odom went to school in Florida where there was no A/C, no sharp points on the scissors, and the coaches walked around with wooden paddles hung from their wrists by leather thongs.

DNJ Column2/9/20

 

What is the scariest thing you can remember? Mark Helprin, an award-winning American novelist and short story writer, wrote “In Sunlight and Shadow,” which I’m currently half-way through. If Helprin is not America’s greatest living novelist, I don’t know who would be. But anyway, in the novel I’m reading, the main character, Harry, is a WWII vet and a paratrooper, (the story is set in the late ‘40s) who, in remembering the invasion of Sicily describes his last sight of his buddy in the jump plane who’s cut in half by the flak that hit them right before they jumped. Scary stuff.

          

I recall taking out the garbage at my childhood home in Tallahassee one time. I had to walk the can out to the street, and the neighborhood back then in the early ‘70s, was very dark, and it was late at night. Going out was no problem, but walking back to the house was an entirely different feeling. The driveway was less than 30 yards, but as I grew closer to the house things got more and more creepy. I heard nothing, saw nothing, but it was a weird feeling. I started walking faster, and by the time I got to the back door I was actually running. I stopped at the door, I guess I’d reached safety in my mind, and looked around, slowed my breathing, and stepped back in the house. Never told anyone.

          

I remember another occasion, at the same house, while I was in college, I experienced a very severe and realistic episode of sleep paralysis. In my dream, which is how that works, I couldn’t move or get away, and was in some sort of plaza with an outdoor fountain in the middle of it. Sitting on the edge of the fountain was a figure dressed in a black cloak and hood facing away from me. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t look away, but I somehow knew that figure was going to turn and look at me and the prospect was somehow unbearable.

          

Time in a dream or nightmare is very elastic, and as this figure turned toward me with infinite slowness, I began, in the dream, repeating to myself, “The blood of Jesus Christ covers all my sins. The blood of Jesus Christ covers all my sins….” I don’t know how many times I said that, or where I had learned to say that, but, as we used to say, boy heckfire, I was scared. Suddenly I woke up before the figure could turn toward me. You know how they used to spell relief? (R-O-L-A-I-D-S) Not me. That episode made me look at the reality of the spiritual world with new eyes, especially the power of the name of Jesus.

          

But to be truthful the scariest moment in my life was after my brother and I took our new leather horsewhips that our parents bought for us on a vacation to the Smokies in the ‘50s, and while Mom was inside with the new baby, Chuck and I tried ‘em out on the clean sheets she had hanging on the clothesline in the back yard. Wow was that a bad idea. Fun, but stupid. The whips were already fairly dirty and the Duval county mud didn’t help any, and that was where the chickens wandered as well.

          

Mom didn’t do anything to us. After she discovered our High Crimes, all she said was, “When your father gets home, he’s going to take those horsewhips and give you boys a whipping!” Dad was a pretty serious sort of guy, and a stern father, so we had no reason to doubt her. Holy cow was I scared.

          

Oddly enough I don’t remember what happened. We were hiding when Dad came home. It probably occurred to him that he’d bought the things and he argued for our acquittal.

         

 “Count your blessings, name them one by one…” the old hymn goes. And isn’t that the truth!

 

Steve Odom “lost” that horsewhip somewhere along the way, but is now pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro.

 

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